A 19-year-old man killed eight people and then himself with a rifle at a busy mall in Omaha on Wednesday, sending terrified workers and Christmas shoppers scrambling for cover.
Five people were wounded in the early afternoon rampage at the upscale Westroads Mall, two of them critically, according to hospital spokesmen.
"It was horrible, just horrible," one woman told KETV, a local television station.
The shooting was the latest in a series of mass killings that have shocked the United States, where gun ownership is widespread and the right to bear arms is a hotly contested constitutional issue.
"It's hard to believe it would happen here," said Jennifer Bettger, who left the mall in the Midwestern city just before the shooting. "It stops you in your tracks. We're all asking why. Why here?"
KETV identified the gunman as Robert Hawkins, 19, from Bellevue, Nebraska, who was living near Omaha in the community of Quail Creek.
Hawkins wrote a suicide note talking about his desire to become famous, which his mother gave to police, KETV said.
Witnesses said they hid in bathrooms, closets and under racks of clothes, some praying as an estimated two dozen shots echoed through the mall.
The gunman shot one man in the head from a third-floor balcony and others at point-blank range, witnesses said. Most of the victims were shot inside the Von Maur department store near the children's clothing area.
Mass shootings periodically shock the United States, where gun ownership is widespread and the right to bear arms is a hotly contested constitutional issue.
In mid-April, Virginia Tech university became the site of the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history when a student killed 32 people and then himself.
In October 2006, a milk truck driver tied up and shot 10 Amish schoolgirls in their classroom in Pennsylvania, killing five of them before turning the gun on himself.
Most of the victims in Omaha were shot inside the Von Maur department store and the motive for the rampage was still being investigated, said Sgt. Teresa Negron of the midwestern city's police department.
Negron said the gunman appeared to have died from a self-inflicted wound.
"It's hard to believe it would happen here," said Jennifer Bettger, 41, who had been shopping in the mall but left shortly before the shooting.
One woman told KETV the gunman was firing into the air inside the department store.